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Kat bookKatherine Turman may not be a name you know, but chances are  you’ve read her work some point.  Maybe you read her stuff in RIP Magazine back in the day.  Maybe you read a write up on your favorite band or maybe you’ve even read her latest masterpiece, the massive oral history of heavy metal, Louder Than Hell.  Katherine Turman is one of the unsung heroes of the hard rock/metal writing world and I was so excited to get the opportunity to talk with her.  

I recently had the honor of ruining Katherine’s day with a marathon phone interview that lasted over an hour.  Katherine was a great sport and she was more than happy to talk about her humble beginnings as a young female rock writer with a fake ID, pissing off Dave Mustaine and Glen Danzig, and just what it is that she loves about Heavy Metal in general.  This was a really fun (and educational) interview for me and I hope you all will enjoy getting to know more about the great Katherine Turman.

 

Hey there Katherine.  Thanks for taking the time out to do this today as I’m sure you’re a busy person.

Sure.  No worries.  It’s nice to hear your voice in person.

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So I have to ask, is it weird being on the other side of the list of questions?

[Laughs] It is very weird especially because I realize how difficult it is to come up with a witty, creative answer.  I feel sorry for people I’ve interviewed who have answered the same questions a million times over.

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What’s an example of a similar question that you’ve asked someone?

For instance, do I really have to ask Rob Halford his coming out story?  Yes, I do because even though it’s out there I need it on my own tape.  Yeah, it’s very weird being on the other side.  I don’t like it as much [laughs].

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I have been interviewed a couple of times and it was the most nerve racking experiences.  I remember thinking, “I have to really think before I speak.”  

Exactly, unless you’re David Lee Roth or David Coverdale or someone who has that gift of verbose gab.  I recently interviewed Ringo Starr which was a thrill.  He just kept things on point and was always bringing things back to his new album.  He is a promotional machine and I thought, “My God.  He’s a Beatle and he’s still doing this.”

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They must do these interviews so much that they are a machine about it.  

Exactly.  Well, you and I will have a very non-machine conversation [laughs].

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Katherine I’ve been admiring your work for quite a while now.  How did you get your start in this field?

Well, I’m an LA native and I started going to clubs like the Troubadour and the Whiskey at the age of 16 or 17.  Metal was just coming up and there were a lot of free papers around.  I picked up some to read about the bands and shows and realized that the writing wasn’t very good.  I was getting all A’s in English, along with my D’s in math, and was like, “Hey.  I can do this.”  I called up one of these papers called New Talent Street Scene.  I went to their office and I think they were amused to see me because I was young and they gave me my first assignment to interview a band.  I was about 18 at that time and I didn’t even know enough at that point to record my interview.  I was just taking super fast notes.  I was fairly lame [laughs].  I decided to go to journalism school and get real about it so I went to USC and got a journalism degree.  I continued writing for LA papers, the school paper, I had some internships, and just went on from there.  At that time I was too young to get into the 21 and up clubs.  I was getting assignments to go to a club to interview a band and I couldn’t get in because I was only 18 or 19 so I had to get a fake ID [laughs].

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What were your first jobs as a writer?Kat & Jon W.

My first job out of college was a trade magazine called Pool and Spa News [laughs].  From there I went to Teen magazine, but within like a year and a half out of college I’d been writing for Rip and Lonn Friend offered me a job.  RIP Magazine was really my 2nd job and I was with them on and off for eight years.  Heavy Metal was a genre I loved and I got to me immersed in it.  I also wrote for the LA Times.  I had an internship there and I think they liked having a woman cover metal probably for their own political reasons.  “Hey!  We’ve got a woman covering metal.  2 for 1!”

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I never consider myself a “journalist.”  I’m a passionate music fan who’s a writer.  Do people like me piss you off at all?

[laughs] To be totally honest, no.  I think writing is mostly kind of an inherent skill.  I think if someone has that and they’ve never gone to school for it, it doesn’t matter.  In fact, when I was an editor for RIP magazine I had musician friends that would say, “I want to try writing.”  I would think, “Oh this is going to suck.” but they’d be super clever and awesome writers.  I’d even be a little jealous that they just jumped right into it, but they were good and I was thrilled.  The only time I ever really get pissed off is someone is not a good writer or if they’re using it just to meet bands, male or female.  Lots of people want to just hang out backstage, but their writing isn’t good or their criticism isn’t good.

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You mentioned RIP Magazine.  That was one of magazines that made me want to be a writer.  I grew up reading Circus, Hit Parader, Metal Edge, and Faces Rocks and I remember hating the interviews, but RIP just always made me feel like these people knew their shit and it was a big turning point for me.

Wow, that is great to hear Don.  Thanks.

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I’ve always been a fan of printed media.  I grew up on magazines so having a blog just seemed like a natural thing for me.  I personally don’t like all these sites that have video and audio interviews as I feel it’s missing the art of it all.  How do you feel about that?

I kind of enjoy it I think.  I just really got started doing video interviews for my day job, so to speak, which is working with Nights With Alice Cooper.  I think it’s a lot of fun especially if you have the back and forth banter.  You can capture the artist’s personality whereas with writing you’re almost going to inject your own bias or edit a little for content and take out their “ums” and “ahs.”   I just think that it gives a little more sense of the artist but personally, it’s nothing I’d love to do for a career.  I love writing.  I love the one on one of telling stories and I’m still a huge magazine junkie.  I subscribe to a ton of print magazines and I love long form journalism.

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What made you want to be a hard rock/metal writer?  Why metal and not jazz or pop or reggae?

[laughs]  I love all kinds of music, but like I said earlier, I grew up in LA and it was a very exciting time.  I was going to see Guns N’ Roses in the early days and Poison and I really loved that scene.  I really felt connected to the sleazy dirtiness and the grime of Hollywood.  I’m an only child so I didn’t have the older brother to turn me on to anything, but I was bit of a tomboy so I hung out with a lot of guys.  I really loved the primal aspect of metal.  I really got to know a lot of these bands at the time and it was just something I fell into.  I kind of preferred the more blues based metal bands like Little Caesar, Junkyard, Raging Slab, and Rock City Angels.  In the end it’s just something that I’ve always loved.  I’ve always loved that primal rock n’ roll.  I love the Beatles and the Stones, but I love the Stones better.  I always go for the dirtier side.

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Louder Than Hell was a seriously in-depth book.  I can’t even begin to imagine what a painstaking process this could have been.  Is it something you’d do again?

Let’s use painful instead of painstaking [laughs].  The answer is yes, but if I was to cover a genre or tackle another oral history subject it would be a narrower topic.  Our book was actually modeled after Please Kill Me which was an oral history of punk.  That was a much shorter time period.  Louder Than Hell covers 40 years.  Please Kill Me covers a dozen years and had way less players in it.  I am doing a 2nd book right now, but it is not an oral history.  I’m definitely tossing around some other topics, but it definitely will not be a 2.2 lb book that is over 700 pages again [laughs].

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So tell me about this new book you’re currently working on.

Well, we actually don’t have a title, but I am actually writing someone’s autobiography with her and that person is Life of Agony singer Mina Caputo who is a transgender woman.  When Life of Agony started she was Keith Caputo.  They got signed to Roadrunner records, put out some great albums, and did a lot of big tours.  The band is called Life of Agony partially because Mina had such an incredibly rough life.  Her parents were heroin addicts, her mom died before she was 2 years old, and then her coming out as a trans woman.  It’s going to be a dramatic story and a timely one these days.  We have a smallish book deal and we’re doing tons of interviews.  It’s a pretty trippy story so I’m excited to be helping her tell that.

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Interviewing people is probably my favorite thing to do because I love getting inside of their heads and having a great conversation with them.  How do you usually prepare for interviews that you’re about to conduct?

Normally, you’re talking to people who have a new record out so I usually ask for lyrics.  I like words so I like to read along.  I also read as much press as I can or watch videos and read bios.  I interviewed Merle Haggard recently and he’s got like 80 albums [laughs].  When it’s something that huge, I’ll go back and check out the highlights that interest me particularly or hopefully things that he hasn’t talked about over and over.  You’ve got to mention ” Okie from Muskogee ” if you’re talking Merle Haggard,  but I’ll try and find a different angle and approach that question a different way.  Prepping for that interview took me days.  I interviewed Kerry King recently. but I know a lot about Slayer.  I just paid a lot of attention to the new record, read up on Gary Holt, and the passing of Jeff Hanneman so I was up to date.  I just try to keep the questions interesting because I’m more cognizance of the fact that they’ve answered these questions a million times before.  I write questions out always.  Sometimes I look at them and sometimes I never even look at them.  Sometimes I forget a question or two after I’ve hung up and I’m all bummed [laughs].

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When writing reviews of bands whether it be concerts or albums, why is it sometimes looked down upon to be 100% brutally honest and unmerciful?

I guess not everyone believes that all press is good press I suppose.  For me, sometimes it’s been difficult because I’ve been doing this for so long that I know a lot of bands, managers, and publishers personally.  I remember once I was assigned to review, this will tell you how long ago it was, Vince Neil’s solo album [laughs].  It was for the Los Angeles Times.  It was either the album or a live show, but either way I really hated it.  I knew the expectations were, “Oh she’s a rock girl.  Oh, she’s interviewed them so it’ll be a good review.”  I pretty much was brutal. but honest and I got a lot of hell from everyone involved.  “Oh, I thought you were our friend.”  Yeah, well, I am your friend. but if it sucks I’m going to tell you.

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Isn’t it best to brutally honest regardless of what people will think?  I mean, what good does it do for anyone to lie and say, “Oh, that was awesome!” when it really wasn’t.

Exactly.  I suppose if there’s a conflict or a personal connection I would try not to do it these days.  It’s difficult to give people you know and like a negative review, but again, I also believe that all art is valid and I give people props for doing it.  Constructive criticism is best, but again, I might take flack for that because I’m not a guitar player.  I had Dave Mustaine yell at me once because he thought I said something bad about his guitar playing. Well, Dave Mustaine yells at everyone [laughs].  I hadn’t said anything like that and I actually pulled up the review on Amazon and showed it to him and then he accused me of editing it.  I said, “No, this is what I wrote.  Whatever you thought I said about your playing, I never backtracked and re-edited it.”

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One of the reasons I even started doing this was because I felt like there weren’t many out there that were really giving me an honest opinion.  I felt like they were more so saying things that they thought would keep them in good standing with their subjects rather than being critical.  

These days, criticism isn’t what people are doing.  The world “criticism” means to critique or to criticize.  I guess that isn’t the trend in music journalism as much.  I think in film, movies tend to be raked over the coals way more than albums or live reviews.  I’m not quite sure why that is.  Maybe it’s because some criticism of film is considered slightly more highbrowed than rock n’ roll and taken a bit more seriously?  In a lot of journalism the philosophy is, “here’s this band that I love and here they are” without really thinking about implications or negativity.  They’re just like, “Oh man, I saw Prong and they ruled!”  Maybe that’s where it might help to go to journalism school because they teach you to look at that more; to look at all sides, to be objective, and maybe if you come into this just as a fan you might not realize that this is part of the gig.

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Kat & ALiceNobody is harder on Iron Maiden than I am.  They are my favorite band, but I can be objective.  I did an article once called “11 Reason Iron Maiden Isn’t Perfect” and people blasted me for being a hater. But as a fan, I feel it’s important to point those things out.

I agree.  If you’re coming from a place of knowledge and objectivity than I agree completely.  A lot of times if you’re a critic, reviewer, or a music journalist you’re only going to go see the bands you love so you may be blinded to their shortcomings or you may not even really want to see them.  It’s nice that you’re able to go see a band you love and to see their shortcomings.  That’s not that common I’d say.

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How hard is it for you to interview an artist/band that you don’t particularly like artistically or musically?  I tend to struggle with this myself, but find myself thinking that maybe it’s best for me to get out of my comfort zone more and go review these acts the way that I see them.

[laughs] I think you totally should.  Recently, I interviewed Joe Satriani who I don’t really care about at all really.  I know he’s super famous and he’s an amazing player and I know all about him so I went in with the usual questions and he turned out to be such a great guy.  He was so smart, so eloquent, and so funny.  I’m still not a fan and I’m not going to go back and listen to his entire catalog but he’s a great guy and he deserves all of his success.  I’m glad I got the chance to do that.  In some cases I’ve talked to someone who did make me want to go back and listen and try to find a new appreciation.  For me, I just like talking to people and getting their stories.  Sometimes I like them more after the stories and sometimes I don’t [laughs].  As a journalist I just like learning and dispensing that learning in articles.

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It’s my dream to interview people like Alice Cooper, Bruce Dickinson, and Paul Stanley.  Why are acts like this generally so impossible to reach out to and why are they usually not willing to talk to smaller, unknown writer like myself?

I think that once you’re a band of a certain level, you’re just looking for a bigger outlet.  Just like a writer where once you’ve written for your hometown paper you want to move on to Mojo or Revolver or something.  Everyone’s looking to up their status, so these bands just have to pick and choose their outlets.  Unfortunately, I find this from both working behind the scenes with Alice and as a journalist, but sometimes the gatekeepers, the publicists and the managers, are just a little too eager to deny access.  They want the return for their buck and if their artist is a super busy person and they’re going to spend a half an hour talking to someone they want to make sure that there’s more than five people reading it so I can see it from both points of view.

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Have you ever been turned down by a big name?

Oh yeah.  For Louder Than Hell, Iron Maiden said, “no.”  They made us jump through hoops.  We had to submit a list of questions that we would ask for the book.  They had to go the manager and through all these people and ultimately they said, “no.”  They said, “We’re only publicizing our own project now.”  Metallica said the same thing.  The book obviously wasn’t going to sell records for them necessarily.  I will say, ultimately we got both bands through sneakier means [laughs].  They’ve got busy lives and agendas so I understand that they need to further their own agendas and careers.  I mean, if you wanted to talk to Iron Maiden when Paul Dianno was in the band, of course they would’ve talked to anybody back in the day.

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Hell, Paul Dianno would talk to anybody today!

[laughs] Yes.  If he’s not in jail [laughs].  We actually found Paul Dianno on Facebook, reached out to him that way, and did the interview with him for the book.

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For someone like me with those big dreams of interviewing bigger names, is it something I should just give up on or is it worth it to keep at it?

Well, I don’t know who else you write for, but I mean, for your blog, you have to have proven numbers and once you do get a big name interview that helps.  “Can I talk to Alice?  I talked to Paul Stanley last week.”  As you know, you just have to keep building your momentum or look for some outlets that have bigger numbers.  When I started writing for the Village Voice it was super exciting because everyone had heard of it.  I’ve only had one or two “no’s” for the Village Voice.  I tried to interview Gary Clark, Jr. who’s a newish guitarist.  He’s on Warner Brothers Records and I wanted to interview him for the Village Voice and they said , “No.”  I was like, “Really?” [laughs]  They told me he was too busy and was done doing interviews for this cycle.  Yeah, people say no to me too.

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If you could say, who was the most difficult interview you ever had.  Difficult meaning the person was just not nice to deal with?

I’m generally able to draw people out.  There hasn’t been any really huge disasters.  At one point Glen Danzig yelled at me.  I had Steve Miller call me a nincompoop because of some technical difficulties we were having in the studio.  That was fun [laughs].  Dave Mustaine has definitely given me a hard time.  Gene Simmons of course.  When I’ve tried to be serious with him at times and it’s hard to get a straight answer out of him which in itself makes a fun interview I suppose.  I once went on the road with Ice-T and Body Count and he kept putting me off.  He kept putting me off so much that I ended up smoking pot with his bass player which is something I don’t normally do.  As soon as I situated for the interview I was so stoned and I was like, “Oh fuck.”  He made me wait two days for this interview and he picks this moment to do it [laughs].  I’ve had some whacky times. but I’ve never had anyone get up and walk out or anything.

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Who are some bands/artists that you have yet to talk with that you would love to do so?

There’s very few to be honest.  I love Bob Dylan, but I don’t want to speak to him because I think he would be a curmudgeon and he would hate being interviewed and I would be devastated.  I think I would give Mick Jagger a show.  He’s someone I just love.  I’ve heard mixed things about him, but I think he’s way up there on my dream list.

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I love that you mentioned your dream list.  In this kind of work, how important is it to dream and dream big?

I think it’s very important.  I don’t know if this is the right way to look at it, but there’s a lot of musicians that I love that don’t get a lot of press and I do my best to help them whenever I can.  One of my guilty pleasures is the band The Boomtown Rats.  I used to hope that they would get back together and that I could interview them.  They did get back together and I did get the chance to interview [Bob] Geldof.  I looked at that and I was happy to help someone I love even if I’m one of three people who love them [laughs].

 

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Who are some of your heroes when it comes to being a rock writer?

You know what?  That’s interesting.  This is a horrible thing but I don’t have many [laughs].  I would say Lester Bangs definitely for his honesty and his attitude.  Maybe one of the weird things about me is that when I started writing I didn’t really have any.  I’m a literature/fiction sort of reader really so I really had no heroes or template really and I’m still that way.  I hardly ever read rock books.  I’m always reading fiction so I’m more inspired by fiction writers who have great language.  In fact, when I was writing Louder than Hell I didn’t read The Dirt by Motley Crue.

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Oh, you would’ve loved that book.  You said you love fiction.  

[laughs] Whoa!  Nice.  Wow [laughs].

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If you could offer up any advice to up and coming writers like myself, what would you say?

I would say reading is the only thing that makes you better as a writer.  It would be wonderful if you had a mentor as well.  In this day and age, editors are so busy.  I never really get any feedback or hand holding.  Maybe look into joining a writing group.  Excessive reading, some peer review, and/or a mentor are the ways to get better.  For myself, personally, I would love to progress and I don’t really know how.  Right now I don’t have any editors that give me feedback.  I think you definitely need input and it has to be from someone you trust.

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Katherine, besides picking up the Louder Than Hell book, what’s the best way for people to read your work?

I’ll tell you the sad truth.  I have a website (www.katherineturman.com), but I don’t know how to update it [laughs].  If you’d like to look at some of my older stuff that’s definitely on there.  You could also just Google me or check out my Twitter account.  If I write something metal, which I do quite often, I’ll post that on the Louder Than Hell Facebook page.

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Katherine, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to this greenhorn.  This was so much fun for me.  I hope I didn’t bore you.

[laughs] No, not at all.  I’m so glad we did this.  Thanks again.

About Don de Leaumont

Don (aka. The Brainfart) has been a heavy metal fan since hearing it for the first time in 1983. Don is also repsonsible for all of the typos, shitty grammar, and kick ass content on this site. Don likes cheap beer, whiskey, Coca Cola Icees, going to shows, and hanging with his kick ass wife, two cats and dog. He originally wanted to name his dog Shandi but his wife said, "No fucking way."

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